Climate Fiction Medium: Final research
Have you ever consumed a piece of fiction, and without realising it, the room around you no longer existed? Your troubles fade way to the back of your consciousness. For some time, you are apart of the story world. When the main character succeeds, you rejoice! Maybe you even cry when their situation seems hopeless. You are completely invested in the story and need to know what happens next.
Fiction can be so powerful. At least if it is an immersive piece. If the creator can achieve this they can change the way their audience sees the real world. The empathy that person feels for the characters in the story can translate to how empathic that person is in real life, especially around certain issues. This could lead to changes in attitudes and behaviours. Precisely what science communicators want to achieve!
Climate fiction is often about dystopian futures. They centre around the character’s struggles within a vastly altered world. We get a glimpse into the lives of future people living in the world that we have left for them. This allows us to feel empathy for people that don’t yet exist. It could change how we see our current actions in a way that talking hypothetically about the future can not.
What the best way is to achieve this result is what I focused my final Master’s research on. How can I, as a science communicator, get my audience to be immersed in my narrative and make them feel empathy for my characters?
I focused on two forms of climate fiction, written story and games, as these are the mediums I’m passionate about. I wrote a climate fiction story that I thought would create an emotional response eliciting feelings of empathy. I also tried to “hook” the audience into the story with some mystery. Once the story was complete, my partner developed a game around my vision, following the story as closely as possible.
What I was looking for was if the medium of storytelling was important to the engagement of the audience. Perhaps not, as the narrative is the same between the two. But maybe they engaged the audience in different ways. One method could be completely triumphant over the other. Or maybe gamers engage more deeply to the game and readers to the story.
My research was an exploratory look into the topic. A case for doing further research, which I’d love to be the one to do at some point. There’s a lot to this study and if you went to know how it was done you can find it here. Here’s a quick summary of my general observations:
1- It is the narrative of the story more than the medium that emotionally engages the audience.
2- Immersing the audience in the story has to do with effective storytelling. This includes the attention they give to it and how present they feel in the story world. So whatever the medium is, it has to be done very well.
3- Written stories can be engaging by keeping suspense high so the audience wants to keep reading to figure out what’s going on.
4- Games can immerse the player through sights and sounds. Music can really add to the emotion that’s felt.
5- Getting anyone to participate in research is REALLY HARD!
6- Always work within time constraints. A lot of my limitations were due to the fact that I wanted to make a fully immersive 3D game in a month.
7- People have really high expectations. Once someone is used to a certain quality of media, anything less is very obvious and distracting. Think of seeing Ghostbusters for the first time. You probably thought it looked pretty amazing. Now watch it today and the CGI looks completely laughable. Our game was an amazing feat for a month-long project with all technical development done by one person. But when you show it to someone that has been playing dozens of AAA games over the years, the differences are obvious.
All in all my takeaway message is this: The medium of how you want to tell your story, in itself, isn’t that important. Only that you use that medium well. Think about how that medium engages with the audience and build on that. Scope your project in a way that you can do the best possible version of it. Really, it comes down to the story you are telling. Find a way to engage with the audience’s emotions by connecting to them on a personal level (you can’t engage with everyone and that’s ok).
We need more science communication that has a real impact, especially on issues such as climate change. The more, in quantity and variety, the better. Fiction is just one way to change attitudes. Use your strengths to create something and do your part in changing the world.